Lifestyle · Travel

Postcard from Crete

We’re happy when one of the accomplished women whom we’ve profiled in Women’s Voices sends us a note bringing us up to date on her life and work. We recently heard from Jerolyn Morrison, an anthropologist/archaeologist/potter who spends her springs, summers, and autumns on Crete, researching the lives of the ancient Minoans. We followed her fascinating career in our profile “Earth, Fire, Water: Jerolyn Morrison’s Dream Job early this year. —Ed.

 Morrison_Minoan_Tastes(1)Fired up and ready for the feast: the “Minoan Tastes” cook-in on Crete, September 1. (Photo by Gavin McGuire) 

In Greece, on the first day of each month we greet each other with “Kalo mina!” (“Have a good month!”) On this September 1, to celebrate the 2014 grape harvest, six Cretan chefs and some 300 guests started the month off well by greeting each other around a cooking hearth built in an area framed by olive trees and grape vines at the Lyrarakis Winery on the Island of Crete. We had come together to enjoy ancient-inspired food prepared in Minoan-style ceramic pots as part of a project called “Minoan Tastes,” whose aim is to build bridges between ancient and modern life and between people within and outside our communities.

Minoan Tastes proposed building those bridges by exploring ancient culinary methods and the ancient production and use of pots. [See the “Earth, Air, Water” profile noted above to find out how Jerolyn and her colleagues determine the ingredients and cooking methods used by the Minoans, the people living on Crete some 3,000 years ago.]

The requirements were that the chefs participating in the event had to choose from a limited list of ingredients from the Minoan culture of the Cretan Bronze Age (Late Minoan period, ca. 1500–1000 B.C.) and the use of a ceramic Minoan-style globular-shaped tripod cooking pot to prepare food over a hearth fire. While the list of ingredients from the “Minoan Grocery Store” is more extensive, the most popular items the chefs selected were goat, pork, rabbit, snails, octopus, cracked wheat, wild greens, legumes (lentils), leeks and onions, garlic, mushrooms, olives, nuts (almonds, hazelnuts), dried and fresh fruits (figs, pears, grapes), aromatic herbs and spices (coriander, bay leaf, thyme, lavender, oregano, sage), sweeteners (honey, carob power, pomegranate syrup, grape syrup), and olive oil and sea salt.

Each person created his or her own interpretation. Each interpretation was valid, but some were much more tasty than others. For instance, the dish that won the People’s Choice Award was pancetta stewed in beer and petimezi (grape syrup) with fresh and dried figs, almonds, and black olives and topped off with fresh herbs! This is the “fun” and community-building aspect of the project—creating, cooking, and eating together.

Twenty-four days before this event, my perspective shifted from a focus on the functional aspects of cooking to the community side of feasting when I had the pleasure of guiding Gloria Steinem and Amy Richards (feminist-activist, co-author of Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future, and author of Opting In: Having a Child Without Losing Yourself), with her two boys Beckett and Webber, to archaeological sites and museums in Crete. My friend and I met the travelers at the airport just before midnight. Though they’d just spent some 12 hours traveling from an island in Italy to another in Greece, they were wide-eyed and welcoming. (They greeted us, their hosts, with hugs and laughter.)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt Knossos, the capital of ancient Crete: the author (right), Gloria Steinem (left), Amy Richards, her sons, Webber and Beckett, and Tom Brogan, director of the Institute for Aegean Prehistory Study Center for East Crete. (Photo by Gavin McGuire)

Throughout our 72 hours together, Gloria carried a bag with this quote sewn on one side: “Imagine we are linked and not ranked.” As we walked through the archaeological site of Gournia on the ancient stone streets and listened to Gloria’s comments and questions, I realized that this quote applies to both living and ancient people. We are linked to the past by our desire to understand ourselves and humankind, as well as the need to propel our communities into the future. Ranking (social, professional, economic, gender ranking, etc.) still exists throughout the world, but we are far less rigidly ranked than we were a century ago and perhaps less than people were in the ancient world.

Meeting these women’s-rights pioneers, who have created dialogue between different groups of people, was a reassurance that my commitment to the exploration of Crete held meaning on a broader scale. It, too, links people together—through knowledge. With knowledge comes the empowerment, understanding, and tolerance that allow us to make positive connections within and outside our communities. On September 1, as I watched the steam rising from the Minoan-style cooking pots and men and women from various nationalities and of different ages cooking and eating food together, I felt a distinct connection between the past, the present, and the future.

 

Jerolyn Morrison, who has a master’s degree in anthropology with emphasis in archaeology, has been a Fulbright scholar and a trained potter. A founder of “Minoan Tastes,” she has been researching ancient Minoan culture on Crete for the last 17 years.

 

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